Undeniable history: Hoang Sa, Truong Sa have always been sacred territories of Vietnam

VietNamNet Bridge – The so-called “U-shaped” line China has drawn by itself in the East Sea as well as its recent moves are the main causes of the complicated and tense situation in the region.

East Sea, Truong Sa islands, illegal “U-shaped” line, UNCLOS

A photo exhibition confirming Vietnam's sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos in central Da Nang City on January 2014 (Source: VNA)

While China is attempting to vindicate this illegal “U-shaped” line (also called the “nine-dot” line), it is necessary to once again raise our voice to help the public understand more clearly about the undeniable legal foundation and historical evidence proving Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes, affirming that China’s allegations and lies on this issue cannot cover up its plot to occupy the entire East Sea.

The strength of the historical truth

History is immutable and no one has the right to distort historical truths. Vietnam has full legal foundations and historical evidence asserting its possession of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes from at least the 17th century, before which they did not belong to the sovereignty of any country.

From the 17th to 19th centuries, Vietnam’s feudal states conducted a series of activities to exercise their sovereignty over the two archipelagoes, such as sending flotillas to survey and draw them on maps, planting steles, building temples and managing and organising fishing activities in Hoang Sa islands.

The legal documents of the Vietnamese feudal dynasties, including the royal official documents and ordinances which are being kept in the country’s archives centres, clearly affirm Vietnam’s indisputable sovereignty over these archipelagoes.

The official documents of the Nguyen Dynasty were the original and most important materials made by the State during their reign. There are 773 volumes of the Nguyen Dynasty’s official documents, 18 of which are reports to the Kings on the exercise of sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands.

The means in which people were sent to Hoang Sa and what they did there are detailed in the reports, which also feature decisions made by the Kings to honour those who made great achievements to the development of the islands and punish those who failed to fulfill their tasks.

These documents about Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea serve as the highest legal and historical evidence of the State asserting its exercise of sovereignty.

Vietnam’s documents are supported by a world atlas drawn by Belgian geographer Phillippe Vandermaelen, which was published in 1827. Maps in the atlas testify to Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes in the East Sea. The author drew Hoang Sa archipelago clearly with its islands bearing the names which are still being used today. The atlas included a map clearly named as ‘the map of Dang trong area’ (the central part of Vietnam ). The territory of the Empire of An Nam (the former name of Vietnam ) is featured in four maps. A summary introduction about the Empire of An Nam is attached besides the Hoang Sa archipelago on the map, affirming that the archipelago is part of the Dang trong area, which belongs to the present Vietnam .

All maps in the atlas demonstrate that China ’s southernmost boundary does not reach the 18th parallel. All maps published by China up to the beginning of the 20th century are also consistent with Western maps, and none of them depict China ’s southernmost territory beyond the 18th parallel.

During the period of French colonisation of Vietnam (from the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century), France, in the name of Vietnam, continued to exercise the management of the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. From the 1930s, France integrated the two archipelagos into Vietnam ’s mainland provinces and stationed troops there. Later, under the Geneva Accords of 1954, France handed them over to the Saigon administration – the government of the Republic of Vietnam . Since 1975 when the south of Vietnam was completely liberated, the two archipelagos have been put under the management of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Thus, Vietnam ’s exercise of territorial sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos has been conducted in an actual, peaceful and continuous manner in accordance with international law and is recognised by the global community.

China ’s steps to claim sovereignty over the two archipelagoes were unilateral, arbitrary acts without any valid grounds, through the use of force. In December 1947, the Ministry of Interior of the Chinese government issued a "Map of locations of the South Sea islands", giving names to a number of reefs and shoals, including islands belonging to Vietnam .

Not stopping there, China deployed troops to seize islands east of Hoang Sa in 1956, and used force to swallow the rest of the archipelago in 1974. In 1988, China continued to use force to occupy several shoals in Truong Sa archipelago.

These acts of China seriously violated international law, ran counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, and were condemned by many countries.

China ’s consecutive international law breaking actions were conducted after the 1951 San Francisco Peace Conference - an important international conference to solve the issue of territories after World War II.

At the event, a representative of the then Vietnamese government affirmed Vietnam ’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos without meeting any opposition from the participating countries. This shows that China’s claim for sovereignty over the two archipelagos was rejected by the international community, while Vietnam ’s sovereignty over them was recognised. This is a powerful truth.

Therefore, China’s version of events, which claims that following the end of World War II , China took back the islands of Xisha (the name it gave to Hoang Sa) and Nansha (its name for Truong Sa) from Japan, runs completely counter to the historical fact of the time.

The illegal “U-shaped” line

The "U-shaped line" is absolutely groundless in legal and historical terms as it was arbitrarily drawn by China without coordinates of specific points and was not internationally recognised. In 2009, China officially made its "U-shaped line" claim to the United Nations for the first time but it gave no detailed explanation. Shortly afterwards, Vietnam , Indonesia and the Philippines sent their diplomatic notes to the UN to protest the absurd claim of China . At international workshops since then, many scholars from all around the globe have pointed out the illegality of the claim, emphasising that it is the cause of rising tension and complexity in the East Sea.

The “U-shaped line” claim completely runs counter to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is a party. In fact, the coastal states in the East Sea as well as those outside the region have rejected China’s claim, which infringes the exclusive economic zones and continental shelves of five countries, namely Vietnam, the Philippines , Indonesia , Malaysia and Brunei .

Vietnam consistently pursues its just stance, demanding China to abide by international law

Vietnam’s stance on the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa is clear and consistent. Vietnam is the first and only state that has exercised its right of mastery to both archipelagoes in a peaceful, stable and uninterrupted manner. Vietnam has sufficient historical evidence and legal grounds to prove its sovereignty over the two archipelagoes. On the other hand, Vietnam intends to resolve all disputes in the East Sea by peaceful means on the basis of respect for international law and practice, particularly the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and in the spirit of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC).

As a signatory to and a ratifier of the 1982 UNCLOS, Vietnam has fully implemented its sovereignty, sovereign right and jurisdiction over the islands, maritime zones and continental shelf in accordance with the provisions of the Convention. In particular, Vietnam has exercised its inspection and control to ensure law enforcement on the waters and islands, and conducted exploration and exploitation of natural resources and protection of the marine environment, including the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas. These oil and gas activities are carried out within the 200 nautical mile economic exclusive zones and continental shelf of Vietnam, and there is no dispute with any other country.

Also a ratifier of the 1982 UNCLOS, China has an obligation to abide by the provisions of the Convention.

China’s blatantly illegal placement of its oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981 in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, as well as China’s argument that all countries’ oil and gas activities in the East Sea must be approved by China, is totally groundless, violating the sovereignty, sovereign rights and national jurisdiction of coastal states, including Vietnam, as specified by the 1982 UNCLOS.    


East Sea, Truong Sa islands, illegal “U-shaped” line, UNCLOS